How many Philadelphia 8-year-olds read at grade level? How many city students graduate from high school prepared for college and careers? Are the district’s finances in good shape? Are all school jobs filled with talented employees?
Philadelphia School Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. measures the accomplishments of his administration by these yardsticks, the four “anchor goals” of his Action Plan 3.0. In an update released Tuesday, he highlighted the slow, steady progress the district has made since he arrived in 2012.
“The progress that we are seeing in schools across the city is not a coincidence; it’s because of intentional planning around how we can best support our diverse school communities,” Hite said.
Hite’s goals were lofty, and some are difficult to quantify. Here are the goals and the 2019 measure for each:
100 percent of students will graduate, ready for college and career. Score: 69 percent. (This measures the district’s four-year graduation rate. Whether those graduates are ready for college and career is a more subjective measure, difficult to quantify.) This is up 4 percentage points since Hite became superintendent in 2012.
100 percent of 8-year-olds will read on or above grade level. Score: 36 percent. This is down nine points since Hite took over, but up three points since 2014-15, when the test changed considerably based on Pennsylvania Common Core Standards. Statewide, 64 percent of Pennsylvania third-graders read at or above grade level.
100 percent of positions filled by great principals, teachers, and employees. Score: 97 percent. (This reflects the district’s overall employee fill rate for 2018-19, but does not take into account teacher turnover, which is an acknowledged issue, or address whether those employees are effective, which is difficult to quantify.)
100 percent of funding for great schools is secured with zero deficit. Score: 100, for five years straight. (The district has, after years of deficits and brutal budgets, been known for good financial stewardship under Hite and chief financial officer Uri Monson, but whether the school system has enough funding for “great schools” is debatable. Most education watchers believe the district is underfunded, and federal statistics have shown that Pennsylvania has the widest gap in the country between wealthy school districts and needy school districts such as Philadelphia.)
Hite first introduced his plan in 2013, and has issued annual updates since then.
The most recent update comes on the heels of the district’s releasing progress reports for each of its 220 schools, plus most city charter schools. There are about 130,000 students enrolled in district schools.
Seven out of 10 district schools have improved since the district first began issuing progress reports in 2014-15. The number of low-performing schools has dropped 50 percent, from 84 to 41, and the number of high-performing schools has more than doubled, from five to 12.
The results drew plaudits from Mayor Jim Kenney.
“I’m so pleased that across our city, more children are reading, and more young adults are graduating ready for college and careers,” Kenney said in a statement. “This continued progress is the result of the district’s steadfast commitment to strategies that work.”
Joyce Wilkerson, school board chair, said that the district could make more progress faster with more resources, but that generally, the news was good.
“A whole school district migrating towards improvement is something I’m delighted with,” Wilkerson said.